Cigar Aficionado

Sitting Down With Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson

On the way home from work the other night I dropped in on Club Perfecto, my local cigar club. Pete Johnson was in town, and I wanted to talk to him about his Tatuaje cigars.

I walked in the door, said hello to some of the people I know, then shook hands with Pete. He gave me one of his new Tatuaje Havana VI cigars. I lit it up, ordered a bottle of Heineken, and took a seat.

Tatuajes are one of the hottest new brands on the market, and I’ve enjoyed just about every one I’ve smoked. They’re bold, leathery, Cuban-esque cigars made in El Rey de Los Habanos, a tiny factory in Little Havana. How tiny? It has a dozen cigar rollers. For perspective, big cigar factories have hundreds of rollers. A midsize operation such as Padrón has nearly 100. Small factories have 50 rollers, so having only a dozen is extremely small.

The factory is run by Pepin Garcia, and it makes stunning smokes with Cuban-style craftsmanship. But there’s only so much room at that shop, and labor is expensive in Miami. So Pepin opened a new factory in Nicaragua last year, which lets him make more cigars for people like Pete. The result is the Havana VI.

Pete told me he was worried about this cigar when it was first released. The factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, which I visited in January, was just getting started, and he was uncertain if the first cigars would be as good as he’s come to expect. He told me he was sweating his first ratings in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider. (We buy cigars at retail for those ratings.)

I had my doubts as well: I thought the quality of the brand would suffer as production soared. But so far, so good: the first ratings for the Havana VI are excellent. One rated 93 points, and the brand averaged 89.2 in a vertical brand tasting in the March 13 Cigar Insider. Not bad.

The one I smoked at Club Perfecto was good as well, rich, leathery, maybe not as peppery and strong as the Miami Tatuajes, but that was Pete’s intention. It’s a nice smoke, and it’s much more affordable than a regular Tatuaje due to the cheaper cost of labor in Nicaragua. These are $5.50 to $8 per cigar, not cheap by any stretch but cheaper than the Miami smokes.

Pete’s a young guy with a talented mind, and he has a knack for what makes a great cigar. He’s working with a master in Pepin, who keeps on blending rich, inspired smokes. Having them in the cigar market is a plus.

"I agree with Alan and Frank, thanks for the comments. These are produced at El Rey de Los Habanos and are some very fine smokes. I believe I read that they employ perhaps 12 torceadores in the Miami plant. I keep recalling a trip recently to the Davidoff store at Madison and 54th. The young fellow, perhaps all of 26 years old, gave me a bit of a sneer when I told him I was there to pick up half a dozen Pepin Garcia Blue Label torpedos,and some Tat Noella's. With a comment about Nicarauguan smokes and his "preferred" DR's. I offered him the thought that this factory and their product just might become very popular and grow quickly. He did not seem to agree. We'll see. " —April 24, 2007 22:25 PM
"Tatuaje became an immediate favorite of mine when I tried it nearly 2 years ago. I know that the cigars coming out of the Miami facility are top notch as I have tried some of the other Pepin Garcia cigars. I have been hesitant to try the new Tatuaje Havana VI line because it is intended to be a lower cost cigar, but since the ratings have been quite good I'll now have to try the cigar for myself." —April 24, 2007 17:48 PM
"I totally agree, Edward. I am currently enjoying a box of the Don Pepin torpedos (blue). Very rich full flavored smokes, with subtleties and complexity. I also had the pleasure to try both the white band (JJ) and black band (havana), and both were also rich, deep flavored delicious sticks. It is arguable that Don Pepin is currently making some of the best smokes in the world. Viva Don Pepin!" —April 24, 2007 10:26 AM
"Tats are a great smoke. Don't overlook the Don Pepin Garcia torpedo, from the same manufacturer. A very nice, spicy and full smoke." —April 20, 2007 20:17 PM
"It was great to see you at the Club last Friday, Dave. Last week was a good one, as dinner guests of Ron and Brian Shapiro @ GHR on Tuesday, with Litto Gomez joining us. Then, poker and cigars with Pete Johnson on Friday @ Club Perfecto. Doesn't get too much better for the "average cigar joe". Ron and Brian have really spoiled us @ Club Perfecto - so all thanks and appreciation to them for making these events happen. We will get you into the poker game, Dave, we will. I wholeheartedly concur with you, Pete and Pepin are a tremendous force as a cigar blending / making team, and the results are a broader selection of fantastic premium smokes for us all to enjoy. Each of the Tatuaje I've had the pleasure to smoke have all had different flavor and complexity characteristics, but the constants have been the robust flavor, consistent construction & burn, and complexity and rich depth that grab your attention, and hold it from first draw to nub. Pete is definitely a guy making cigars for full flavored cigar aficionados, and he has the master craftsmen in Don Pepin. I look forward to my next Tatuaje (in a few minutes as I complete the last leg of this week of extreme commuting - the biggest upside of 900 mi. round trip per week commuting is lots of cigar time!). Pete and Edgar enjoyed our poker game, and we enjoyed their company. Hope to see you and Pete at the Club again soon.Big Smoke Rings....oooo0000OOOOOO" —April 20, 2007 17:37 PM
"Goodmorning, I was introduced to Tatuaje about 2 yrs ago by my very good friends @ Two Guys Smoke Shop, in Salem NH. I then met Pete Johnson @ a cigar event @ the same place about, the same time. Well since then I've emailed Pete here and there, just to see how things are and just to remind him how awesome his cigars realy are. Pete just came back to Salem NH for a visit and a cigar dinner. He's still putting out the best and my favorite cigar, Tatuaje v1..He is a class act, very personable, and a good good person.He and his cigars will be around for a long long time.Bobby" —April 20, 2007 09:36 AM